Battle Exhortation
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Battle Exhortation


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163 pages

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In this groundbreaking examination of the symbolic strategies used to prepare troops for imminent combat, Keith Yellin offers an interdisciplinary look into the rhetorical discourse that has played a prominent role in warfare, history, and popular culture from antiquity to the present day. Battle Exhortation focuses on one of the most time-honored forms of motivational communication, the encouraging speech of military commanders, to offer a pragmatic and scholarly evaluation of how persuasion contributes to combat leadership and military morale.

In illustrating his subject's conventions, Yellin draws from the Bible, classical Greece and Rome, Spanish conquistadors, and American military forces. Yellin is also interested in how audiences are socialized to recognize and anticipate this type of communication that precedes difficult team efforts. To account for this dimension he probes examples as diverse as Shakespeare's Henry V, George C. Scott's portrayal of General George S. Patton, and team sports.



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Date de parution 10 juin 2013
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611173567
Langue English

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Studies in Rhetoric/Communication Thomas W. Benson, Series Editor
BATTLE Exhortation
Keith Yellin

© 2008 University of South Carolina
Cloth edition published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2008 Paperback edition published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2011 Ebook edition published in Columbia, South Carolina, by the University of South Carolina Press, 2013
22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
The Library of Congress has cataloged the cloth edition as follows:
Yellin, Keith, 1964–
Battle exhortation : the rhetoric of combat leadership / Keith Yellin.
    p. cm.— (Studies in rhetoric/communication)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-57003-735-1 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Command of troops—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 2. Morale—Quotations, maxims, etc. 3. Leadership—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 4. Oratory—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 5. Exhortation (Rhetoric) 6. Combat—Psychological aspects—History. 7. Speeches, addresses, etc. I. Title.
UB210.Y45 2008
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following publishers for permission to publish previously copyrighted material:
Excerpts from With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge, copyright © 1981 by E. B. Sledge. Used by permission of Presidio Press, an imprint of The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Excerpts from 1:39–41, 2:19–21, 2:25–27 of Julius Caesar: Seven Commentaries on the Gallic War (1998), translated by Carolyn Hammond. By permission of Oxford University Press.
ISBN: 978-1-61117-054-2 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-61117-356-7 (ebook)
To Nicholas Tavuchis
That moment had come of moral vacillation which decides the fate of battles. Would these disorderly crowds of soldiers hear the voice of their commander, or, looking back at him, run on further?
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Yet volumes are devoted to armament; pages to inspiration .
George S. Patton Jr., “Success in War”
Series Editor's Preface
1. Bracing for Combat
Previous Consideration
Defining Exemplar: Mantinea, 418 B.C.E .
Auditory Dimensions
Encouraging Directions
2. Indoctrination
Recruits All
Fraternal Standing in Plutarch's Spartan Mother
Fraternal Standing in Shakespeare's Henry V
Ethos Matters: George C. Scott's Patton
Bill Murray's Parody in Stripes
3. Tensions
Managing Reputation: George Washington versus Daniel Morgan
Managing Distance at Second Manassas and San Juan Heights
Managing Violence in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts
Managing Love: Julius Caesar and the Tenth Legion
4. Evolutions
Eisenhower on D-Day
Ridgway's Turn
Slide into Oblivion
Return Transformed: Schwarzkopf and Franks
Differences by Combat Arm
In Battle Exhortation: The Rhetoric of Combat Leadership , Keith Yellin considers the history and the generic features of speech addressed by commanders to troops about to go into battle. Yellin, a former United States Marine Corps captain with a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Iowa, brings together an unusual range of learning and experience, which he puts to excellent use in this analysis of a mode of address that has gone largely without notice in rhetorical histories or officer training but is nearly universal in military campaigns, often with decisive effects.
Yellin's account considers the battle exhortation over the course of two millennia in Western experience. He takes us to historical accounts of actual battles as well as to literary and cinematic representations that, he argues, have shaped the genre and our expectations. He has a keen eye for the enduring topics of battle exhortation, for their development over time, and for the actual circumstances of battle experiences that shape exhortation and response. Yellin's account is rich in extended case studies, in which detailed military history at the tactical level is combined with astute and nuanced critical analysis of the texts, sights, and sounds of the discourse of military leaders at every rank.
Yellin's re-creation of how Spartan rhetoric made sense to fifth-century B.C.E. foot soldiers calling to each other as they marched into battle to the sound of flutes is vivid, immediate, and convincing. The Spartan case is accompanied by similarly detailed accounts of exhortations from the Bible, the Iliad , Shakespeare's Henry V , George C. Scott portraying General George S. Patton, Tim O'Brien in Vietnam, Julius Caesar at the head of Roman legions, Teddy Roosevelt on San Juan Hill, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw at Fort Wagner, Dwight D. Eisenhower on D-Day, and many others. In all these cases, Yellin is alert to the symbolic structures that contribute to military outcomes, to the intense skepticism of men and women about to risk their lives toward anything that smacks of empty verbal display, to the tensions that must be held in balance when violence becomes an arm of policy, and to the cultural and tactical differences that require leaders to adapt to circumstances while staying in touch with enduring principles under conditions of stress and danger.
This balanced and crisply argued book will be interesting and useful to students of both rhetoric and military leadership.
In some endeavors fidelity is the expectation. To stand faithfully beside another may be difficult, but it is one's obligation, one's duty. This project by contrast has taught me more about generosity. To give generously of one's resources when there is neither obligation nor personal advantage is beyond expectation. Only as the beneficiary of such generosity have I been able to produce this book.
While many have contributed in important ways, I am particularly grateful to extended family Harry Nave and Marc Stern; professors Nicholas Tavuchis and Donovan Ochs; Marines Thomas Draude and Darin Morris; Benjamin Abramowitz, U.S. Army Infantry; and Linda Fogle and Karen Rood at the University of South Carolina Press.
For her understanding I am especially indebted to my wife, Kristal.
A familiar practice is so pervasive, in civilian and military life alike, that we take it for granted. Troops about to go into harm's way expect to hear from their commander. Athletes about to begin or resume play expect to be addressed by their coach. Employees anxious about their own or their employer's future expect to be told what the future holds. Political enthusiasts expect their candidate or incumbent to rally them. The faithful expect to be encouraged by their clergyman. Commanders, coaches, business leaders, politicians, and preachers expect to be heard. Likewise, when we enjoy literature, history, television, or cinema, we often encounter someone encouraging a group to rise above adversity, pull together, and succeed. While this phenomenon has been noticed by others, it has not received the careful attention it deserves. Exactly what is the nature of such discourse? How does it speak to us? Why its broad appeal? This work is an attempt to answer such questions, focusing on what I regard to be their primary context—the military battlefield. Civilian leaders may “pick their battles” and “rally the troops,” but real, close combat is the source of such metaphors.
There are a number of likely reasons why this type of speech has not been sufficiently studied. First, we have not had a good name for it. In antiquity the familiar general's speech came to be known as a harangue or exhortation. But there are problems with these terms today. Harangue sounds dated and stiff, if not haughty. Rather than encouraging a group, it connotes vehement critical speech, a tirade. Exhortation is better, earnestly pleading or mildly rebuking others to some conduct, but unqualified, the term has religious resonances. It also has four syllables, seemingly too many for a culture that prefers one or two. Perhaps that is why today we tend to think in terms of the pep talk . Pep invigorates and stimulates, as in pep rallies, pepper, and pep pills. And yet this expression has its own shortcoming: though succinct, there is something too playful about it. Pep talks are intended to arouse us, particularly in the context of sporting events. In more sober settings, however, where the stakes are particularly high, a pep talk can be received with disdain. So lacking a stable, generally accepted name, this genre of speech has escaped comprehensive definition. I shall refer to it as battle exhortation. Still at its core exhortation, the phrase preserves a spirit of giving direction with great intensity. Qualified by battle, it implies conflict, not conversion, and typically on a scale larger than two antagonists. As for the term's many syllables, a variety of shorter verbs remain available when commanders exhort, encourage, or rally their troops.
Another reason this speech has eluded concerted study has to do with its ephemeral nature. The closer to the battle, the more immediate the discourse, the more elusive it becomes. Renditions in ancient chronicles are sometimes dismissed as inaccurate. More contemporary versions still tend to be those of high-ranking officers because of the generative and preservative resources of their headquarters. Generals and their aides also have lower mortality rates, improving the opportunity for memoirs. Yet even in upper military echelons, battle exhortation can be difficult to find. Douglas MacArthur is a case in point. He is perhaps the United States's most famous warrior, and the one most noted for his eloquence, but MacArthur's memorialized addresses are to the West Point cadets, the Congress, Filipinos, and the press. His exhortations as a junior officer are unrecorded, and his remoteness as commanding general earned him the nickname “Dugout Doug.” MacArthur, it would seem, directed his communiqués to the home front more than to his front line. 1
The battle exhortation of senior officers can also be elusive because of the evolution of warfare. While technologies have made recording discourse easier, they have at the same time led to the dispersion of troops, radio silence, and hair-trigger employment, all diminishing opportunities for exhortation. Opposing forces no longer embattle within sight of one another, within earshot of their general, and within minutes of the clash. Instead they huddle in significantly removed staging areas and ship compartments, awaiting the signal to begin their long-range assaults. And yet, upon closer examination, battle exhortation proves so pervasive on the battlefield and within our culture that it is not nearly as fleeting as it first appears.
A third reason for the lack of attention may be that the disciplines that should take most interest in battle exhortation regard it as unworthy. Students of speech communication, for instance, tend to avoid military discourse today. A progenitor of the current tradition, I. A. Richards, deliberately avoids “the combative impulse,” preferring the study of rhetoric to focus on “misunderstanding and its remedies.” 2 But in avoiding martial venues, speech scholars overlook a significant body of communicative practice. Millions of persons are serving under arms. What are they saying? What are they hearing? In battle exhortation (which addresses but one recurrent military situation) scholars would encounter rhetoric at its limits. At stake are life and limb. Impediments can include paralyzing fatigue and fear, significant differences between commander and troops, and the din of battle. Age-old appeals, such as favorable omens, plunder, or execution for cowardice, are no longer available. Soldiers do not expose themselves for frivolous reasons. They must be motivated by a greater good, or some great evil. Studying articulated reasons can tell us more about ourselves.
Similarly, the military shows little interest in battle exhortation, often regarding talk as cheap. A Marine commandant epitomizes this frame of mind when he writes: “The indispensable condition of Marine Corps leadership is action and attitude, not words.” True, troops have little patience for bombast, but it is also true that they often prefer one officer over another because of the way officers address them. The commandant's thinking also underestimates how words complement and contextualize action. For instance, when the Theban general Pelopidas was surprised and outnumbered by Spartans at Tegyra, a scout grimly reporting, “We have fallen into our enemies' hands,” the fate of the Sacred Band hinged in no small part on what Pelopidas said next. At that critical instant, his reply—”No, they have fallen into ours”—reframed the situation and galvanized his men. So too during the Battle of the Bulge when General George S. Patton Jr. openly put his arm around a numb division commander and asked, “How is my little fighting son of a bitch today?” 3 Tactical genius or finely honed training count for little if leaders cannot connect with their soldiers at the moment of truth. Instances abound where troops failed to pull the trigger or pulled the trigger without discretion, because commanders were no longer in charge of their men.
This leads to the most probable reason for the neglect of battle exhortation—a simple lack of awareness. Any number of assumptions may be at work here, which can be expressed as follows:
Firepower and logistics win conflicts, not talk.
Bold, authentic speech is the sum and substance of battle exhortation.
Properly trained and cared-for troops do not need it.
Sound doctrine, selection, training, and equipment necessarily produce effective combat communicators.
The problem is that all of these assumptions are flawed. History demonstrates that force of will regularly, ultimately, trumps force of arms. And what so crucially influences force of will, if not the right word at the right time? Moreover, empirical study demonstrates that officers can seriously misjudge which incentives best keep their troops fighting when the going is tough. 4 Indeed, battle exhortation is a sophisticated type of speech, drawing from a variety of topics, managing tensions, varying by rank and conflict, and often making the difference. In his book The Mask of Command John Keegan makes two striking claims about the genre. As to its relative importance, “Among the imperatives of command, that of speaking with all the arts of the actor and orator to the soldiers under his orders stands with the first.” As to its study, “For all the importance of prescription”—Keegan's term for battle exhortation—”military literature is curiously deficient in discussion of how it should be done.” 5
I trace my interest here to two personal experiences. As an officer of Marines, I embraced the warrior ethos with its stress on discipline, enthusiasm, and fraternity. I relished the seriousness of the mission and its responsibility. At the same time, given my interest in speech communication, I found the absence of public speaking in the training regimen surprising. Other than learning the importance of a strong resolute “command voice,” and being coached upon joining the fleet to speak to enlisted men “in their terms,” I cannot remember being taught how to be articulate in combat. Senior enlisted men and other officers I spoke with recounted their own lack of training in this regard. Naturally the need to be levelheaded and poised was emphasized, but learning what to say and how to say it was left to experience. In short, no other aspect of military leadership is treated so casually—and we reap bitter fruit. In the words of one disabled veteran, “We were over there, all these young guys, doing our jobs, but we really didn't know why we were there.” 6
Similarly, when I was doing graduate work, I delighted in the study of argument and persuasion. I relished having an academic lineage that included Aristotle, Richard Whately, and Richard Weaver. But I found rhetoricians' study of war discourse limited to examinations of civilian texts (such as presidential addresses) or material chronicled long ago. Historians were doing more but showed less interest in contemporary application. The gap between combat and rhetorical studies has not always been this dramatic. Quintilian, first-century Rome's Imperial Chair of Rhetoric, explained that “the art of war will provide a parallel” to the art of rhetoric; elsewhere he referred to “the weapons of oratory.” Conversely, archetypal warrior Julius Caesar filled his war commentaries with battle exhortation, terming the harangue a “military custom.” 7 And yet my review of the literature confirms Keegan's impression that study on how commanders should address their troops has always been limited.
This book integrates rhetoric and combat in pursuit of two primary objectives: to understand battle exhortation (an intellectual goal) and to offer insight for improving it (a practical, especially military goal). As a result, this work addresses two general audiences: academics and military professionals. Interdisciplinary work can be exciting when it bridges typically unconnected communities and offers new vantage points. But it is also risky because of the hazard of combining disparate technical vocabularies, producing a hodgepodge of jargon. To craft a text accessible to as wide an audience as possible, I have often substituted common terms for more specialized ones, for example, pressing need for the rhetorical term exigence and intercom for the Navy term 1MC . At the same time I have sought to avoid colorless language. The title of chapter 4 , “Evolutions,” for instance, probably connotes different things to different groups. For scholars the connotation may be of progressive change, simultaneously, given the plural. Military professionals and military historians are more likely to think of multiple but distinct activities, such as conducting a forced march or changing formation. Chapter 4 accommodates both senses.
At the highest level this study of combat motivation is organized by four facets of rhetoric identified by Lloyd Bitzer. In a “rhetorical situation,” Bitzer suggests, someone is apt to speak up with the intent to influence others because (1) there is a pressing need to do so, and (2) the audience might resolve that need. All the while there are constraints to audience reception and response: (3) influences that originate more personally from the speaker, and (4) those that are more environmental but still require the speaker's attention. 8 Each chapter observes exhorters addressing necessity, their audiences, and personal and environmental constraints, but the relative focus shifts. Specifically:
Chapter 1 , “Bracing for Combat,” establishes battle exhortation as a distinct genre of discourse, largely through the timeless need that calls for it. After alluding to a handful of examples, I review the pertinent literature, then identify boundaries, dimensions, and directions of the discourse. Here I draw especially from the plausible circumstances of a Spartan commander, the combat memoirs of a Spanish conquistador, and two American infantrymen (one from World War II's European theater, one from the Pacific; one an officer, the other an enlisted man).
Chapter 2 , “Indoctrination,” investigates how we—all of us—are socialized to recognize and anticipate battle exhortation and understand its conventions. In other words, the audience of this discourse is much broader than troops on the battlefield. To further identify appeals common to the genre, I refer to exemplars from literature and cinema such as Shakespeare's Henry V and George C. Scott's impersonation of Patton. I examine a saying from antiquity and a contemporary parody as well.
Chapter 3 , “Tensions,” considers how issues inherent to battle exhortation—reputation, distance, violence, and love—are particularly subject to the exhorter's personal style, character, and sensitivity. I draw examples from the American Revolution and the Civil War but range as widely as Teddy Roosevelt and Julius Caesar.
Chapter 4 , “Evolutions,” explores military permutations of the genre. When more mindful of the circumstances of the war, the presence of journalists, the combat arm of the audience, and other factors, one may discern changes in tenor to battle exhortation. I trace variations over the last sixty years among U.S. theater commanders, and across a multifaceted (combined-arms) expeditionary group during a single operation.
In my conclusion, I summarize, identify questions for further study, and speculate about the future of battle exhortation.
A word more about material and method: In each chapter I ground discussion in examples drawn from my general experience. When I developed an interest in this subject twenty years ago, I knew that combatants, real or virtual, often grew irresolute before combat. I knew that one response was to be overcome by one's fear, running or hiding or performing poorly, and the other response was to face the threat and fight reasonably well. I knew that encouraging words could help produce the latter response. Ever since, I have collected battle exhortation wherever I have encountered it—as a student of speech communication and history, as a consumer of Western culture, as a Marine. In this book I group and juxtapose salient examples. Comparing one instance with another, noting similarities and differences between several, I have come to my conclusions more often by analogy than by generalization, invoking “essential (though not exhaustive) correspondences.” 9 Human discourse, particularly human discourse seeking to influence the vagaries of war, may not lend itself to conclusive, quantifiable analysis. But we should be able to arrive at probable conclusions and better choices.
Bracing for Combat
Speeches alone do not compel men to fight or fight well. Xenophon rightly observed, “There is no exhortation so noble that it will in a single day make good those who are not good when they hear it. It could not make good bowmen, unless they had previously practiced with care, nor spearmen, nor knights.” There are innumerable sources of combat motivation: previous training, the prospect of reward or punishment, the comfort of overwhelming odds, self-defense, even hormones. But situations arise in war in which other combat motivators come up short. “The soldier will forget or discount much that training has taught him as the danger mounts and fear takes hold,” S. L. A. Marshall notes. “It is then that the voice of the leader must cut through the fear to remind him of what is required.” 1 Consider examples of such speech across considerable time and space:
When Moses prepares the Hebrews for crossing the Jordan and beginning a national existence without him, he issues five dictates for waging war. The first prescribes battle exhortation: “When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.’” 2
When Agamemnon, leading Greek at the battle for Troy, ranges through his embattled ranks, he exhorts: “Be men now, dear friends, and take up the heart of courage, and have consideration for each other in the strong encounters, since more come through alive when men consider each other, and there is no glory when they give way, nor warcraft either.” 3
Caesar almost without fail encourages his men before battle. Regarding battle exhortation a custom of war, he lists it among the activities he barely has time for when surprised by an enemy: “Caesar had to see to everything at once. The flag must be unfurled (this was the signal to stand to arms), the trumpet sounded; the soldiers must be recalled from working on the defenses, and all those who had gone some way off in search of material for the earthworks had to be ordered back to camp. He must draw up his battle line, encourage the men, give the signal. There was too little time, the enemy pressed on so fast, to complete these arrangements…. Once he had given all the appropriate orders Caesar ran down where luck would take him to speak his encouragement to the men…. His speech was long enough only to urge them to remember their long-established record for bravery, and not to lose their nerve but to resist the enemy assault with courage.” 4
When Cortés implores his conquistadores to strike inland for Mexico City, exceeding his orders from Cuba, Bernal Díaz del Castillo recalls: “When the ships had been destroyed, with our full knowledge, one morning after we had heard mass, when all the captains and soldiers were assembled and were talking to Cortés about military matters, he begged us to listen to him, and argued with us as follows: ‘We all understood what was the work that lay before us, and that with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ we must conquer in all battles and encounters…and must be ready for them as was fitting, for if we were anywhere defeated, which pray God would not happen, we could not raise our heads again, as we were so few in numbers, and we could look for no help or assistance, but that which came from God, for we no longer possessed ships in which to return to Cuba, but must rely on our own good swords and stout hearts’—and he went on to draw many comparisons and relate the heroic deeds of the Romans.” 5
Queen Elizabeth I's most famous address is battle exhortation, encouraging English troops before Spain's expected invasion. Mounted sidesaddle, wearing a breastplate, holding a truncheon, she exhorts at Tilbury: “My loving people, [my entourage and I] have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourself to armed multitudes for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved my self, that under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of all my subjects, and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour, and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that…any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm…I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.” 6
Young Hawk, a seventeen-year-old Arikara scout attached to Custer's Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn, remembers of that day: “Before the attack began, the older men spoke to the younger men, as is the custom of our tribe. Stabbed [one of the elders] said, ‘Young men, keep up your courage. Don't behave like you are children. Today will be a hard battle.’ He said these things because he saw many of us were young and inexperienced. He wished to prepare us for our first real fight.” 7
The commander of the First Marine Division, Major General James Mattis, offers considerable encouragement during the United States's second war with Iraq. Immediately prior to invasion, he exhorts his men: “For decades, Saddam Hussein has tortured, imprisoned, raped, and murdered the Iraqi people; invaded neighboring countries without provocation; and threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction. The time has come to end his reign of terror. On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind. When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them.” When stubborn resistance in Iraq requires the Marines to return, Mattis explains: “We are going back into the brawl. We will be relieving the magnificent Soldiers fighting under the 82nd Airborne Division, whose hard won successes in the Sunni Triangle have opened opportunities for us to exploit. For the last year, the 82nd Airborne has been operating against the heart of the enemy's resistance. It's appropriate that we relieve them…. Our country is counting on us even as our enemies watch and calculate, hoping that America does not have warriors strong enough to withstand discomfort and danger. You, my fine young men, are going to prove the enemy wrong—dead wrong.” Even to the Marines' families, Mattis gives confidence: “We are returning to Iraq. None of us are under any illusions about the challenges that await our troops there. We also know the understandable anxiety that will be felt by our loved ones when we deploy. We are going to stand by one another, all of us, reinforced by our faith and friendship, and together overcome every difficulty. It will not be easy, but most things in life worth doing don't come easily. Our country needs us in the struggle to put Iraq back on its feet. Our enemies are watching, betting their lives and their plans on America not having the courage to continue this fight. Our Sailors and Marines, reinforcing the Army and our many allies' forces already in Iraq, will prove the enemy has made a grave mistake. As the Division goes back to this combat zone, your loved ones will need your spiritual support so they can focus on their duty.” 8
These examples do not constitute a scientific sample. They address but a tiny fraction of the wars and battle speech in Western history. But they do bear witness that from the dawn of history commanders have complemented other forms of battle preparation with exhortation, perceiving a need in combat beyond training, planning, and supply.
Previous Consideration
To what degree has this phenomenon been studied before? First, we should acknowledge that the need for combat morale is well appreciated. Defined by the U.S. Army's basic leadership text as that which “holds the team together and keeps it going in the face of the terrifying and dispiriting things that occur in war,” morale is widely recognized as the nebulous, sometimes capricious, terribly important emotional state of a military unit. Typically the higher the morale, the greater the effectiveness of the troops and the likelihood of accomplishing the mission. In Crusade in Europe , for instance, General Dwight Eisenhower regarded morale as “the greatest single factor in successful war.” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King told the 1942 graduating class at Annapolis, “Machines are nothing without men. Men are nothing without morale.” Napoleon famously declared, “Morale makes up three quarters of the game; the relative balance of man-power accounts only for the remaining quarter.” Some two thousand years prior, rallying the Greek Ten Thousand to begin their fighting withdrawal from Persia, Xenophon reminded: “You are well aware that it is not numbers or strength that bring the victories in war. No, it is when one side goes against the enemy with the gods' gift of stronger morale that their adversaries, as a rule, cannot withstand them.” 9
A particularly sensitive consideration of combat morale is found in the writings of the nineteenth-century French colonel Ardant Du Picq. “In the last analysis,” he decided, “success in battle is a matter of morale. In all matters which pertain to an army, organization, discipline, and tactics, the human heart in the supreme moment of battle is the basic factor.” Du Picq was among the first to recognize the special challenge that “modern battle” poses to morale. There is something in human nature, he explains, that leads troops to be emboldened by numbers, particularly when they are shoulder to shoulder. The ancients understood this and created their dense formations known as phalanxes, which shoved each other about on relatively small battlefields. By contrast, modern weaponry, communications, and logistics produce immense battlefields, where “the distances of mutual aid and support have increased” and “death is in the air, invisible and blind, whispering, whistling.” Dispersion and chance produce a psychologically isolating affect, and “the more one imagines he is isolated, the more has he need of morale.” For these reasons Du Picq concluded, “Combat requires today, in order to give the best results, a moral cohesion, a unity more binding than at any other time.” 10 This perspective might strike the uninitiated as unlikely, since modern war can reduce the gore of hand-to-hand combat. Those left alone in a threatening environment understand the point, however. We despair more easily alone.
Curiously, studies on combat morale are typically silent about battle exhortation. Prominent investigations with promising titles such as Anatomy of Courage; Morale: A Study of Men and Courage; Fighting Spirit; and Combat Motivation do not seriously consider speech as a means for bolstering combat motivation. After World War I the chief of the Morale Branch of the U.S. War Plans Division acknowledged that the commander “must be able to reach and enthuse his men by the spoken word,” but his 775-page Handbook on the Systematic Development of Morale devotes only 3 pages to the language of military leaders. Likewise, the post–World War II social-science study American Soldier: Combat and Its Aftermath contains chapters such as “Combat Motivations among Ground Troops” and “Problems Related to the Control of Fear in Combat” without factoring in speech. 11
There are hints in this research that verbal encouragement is an important component of combat leadership. For example, in a survey of U.S. infantrymen who saw action in the Mediterranean during World War II, the combat veterans were asked to describe officer leadership practices that gave them confidence in tough or frightening situations. Comments fell into the following categories:
Led by example; did dangerous things himself, displayed personal courage, coolness (31 percent)
Encouraged men, gave pep talks, joked, passed on information (26 percent)
Showed active concern for welfare and safety of men (23 percent)
Showed informal, friendly attitude; worked along with men (5 percent)
Miscellaneous or unclassifiable (15 percent) 12
Responses here are consistent with other research and experience, underscoring the importance of leadership by example. There is no denying the stimulus of a leader who eschews the safety that rank may afford and shares in the danger of the troops. This is the essence of combat leadership, particularly at the squad and platoon level, and why these leaders learn the call and gesture “Follow me.” The practice that receives so much less attention is the second leadership activity identified by the veterans: verbal encouragement.
Du Picq is a case in point. For him the morale required today was realized through minimizing the change of personnel within combat units, practicing “iron discipline,” and employing tactics that maximize close-order formation. He appreciated that rifle fire permitted a reduction in the number of infantrymen and that it necessitated they be engaged as skirmishers, “in thin formation, scattered,” but he would keep troops in morale- and supervision-preserving column as long as possible. What is it about column, a denser, follow-the-leader formation? For Du Picq it was two things: the soldier imagines “that the more numerous we are who run a dangerous risk, the greater is the chance for each to escape” and, from the commander's perspective, once troops deploy from column to skirmishers, “they no longer belong to you.” The extent of Du Picq's documented appreciation for battle exhortation is a single, indirect sentence about animating the troops with passion. In practice he seemed to have thought more of it, cut down in 1870 while directing his regiment from a road under fire—desiring “to put heart into his troops by his attitude.” In the moment that Prussian shell exploded over the road and mortally wounded Du Picq, we find him doing two things, almost assuredly. First, by standing amid incoming artillery fire, he was displaying a contempt for danger, a physical example for his men. It is unlikely that the colonel was sharing his attitude in silence, however. An eloquent writer, a successful field commander, Du Picq was almost certainly putting heart into his troops by exhorting them, too. 13 Other studies about morale probably assume battle exhortation as well.
Quite simply, while histories and chronicles record hundreds of battle exhortations, there is little theoretical investigation into the matter. Even the first-century C.E . authority of Roman oratory Quintilian did not probe the matter, though he recognized battle exhortation's frequency and import by asking: “Has not oratory often revived the courage of a panic-stricken army and persuaded the soldier faced by all the perils of war that glory is a fairer thing than life itself?” 14 Study of battle exhortation is sometimes brief, sometimes fuller, but interest tends to be on antiquity, and nowhere is there a book-length investigation.
A review of the surviving literature finds Onasander, a Greek contemporary of Quintilian, to be the first to discuss battle exhortation at any length. We know little more about Onasander than that he wrote a commentary on Plato's Republic , which no longer exists, and a military work titled “The General,” which does. In “The General,” which enjoyed considerable popularity through the Renaissance, Onasander's sketch of the ideal commander includes the characteristic of “a ready speaker,” because “no city at all will put an army in the field without generals, nor choose a general who lacks the ability to make an effective speech.” Onasander's rationale: “If a general is drawing up his men before battle, the encouragement of his words makes them despise the danger and covet the honour; and a trumpet-call resounding in the ears does not so effectively awaken the soul to the conflict of battle as a speech that urges to strenuous valour rouses the martial spirit to confront danger.” 15
Conceiving exhortation broadly, Onasander considered the encouraging effect of example and drama alongside speech. In fact, “The general must inspire cheerfulness in the army, more by the strategy of his facial expression than by his words; for many distrust speeches on the ground that they have been concocted especially for the occasion, but believing a confident appearance to be unfeigned they are fully convinced of his fearlessness; and it is an excellent thing to understand these two points, how to say the right word and how to show the right expression.”
Pursuing this nonverbal vein further, Onasander explained how skillfully displaying prisoners can embolden the army. Basically the general should kill or hide fearsome-looking prisoners but terrify the weaker ones, then “lead them, weeping and supplicating, before his army, pointing out to his soldiers how base and wretched and worthless they are, and saying that it is against such men that they are to fight.” 16 In our first theorist to address battle exhortation at any length, then, we already see its necessity, its limitations, and larger communication practices. (Such flagrant treatment of prisoners, however, is unlawful today.)
The insights of Vegetius and Paleologus are briefer but also relevant. Vegetius, the fourth-century C.E . Roman author of Epitome of Military Science , popular and influential into the nineteenth century, proffered maxims that are still commonplace. He coined “Few men are born brave; many become so through training and force of discipline,” as well as “He, therefore, who aspires to peace should prepare for war.” While Vegetius' agenda was to provide a roadmap for restoring Roman military virtue through proper selection, drill, and discipline, he did briefly recognize a role for battle exhortation. Developing his rule of thumb that “Troops are not to be led into battle unless confident of success,” he recommended gauging their self-confidence by observing them closely. When more confidence was necessary, it could be added through battle exhortation: “An army gains courage and fighting spirit from advice and encouragement from their general, especially if they are given such an account of the coming battle as leads them to believe they will easily win a victory. Then is the time to point out to them the cowardice and mistakes of their opponents, and remind them of any occasion on which they have been beaten by us in the past. Also say anything by which the soldiers' minds may be provoked to hatred of their adversaries by arousing anger and indignation.” 17 What is particularly worth noting in this brief commentary is that battle exhortation may employ a wide variety of subject matter. Vegetius would, in his words, “say anything” that might incite the troops to a combat lather. This interest in employing any topic to get troops performing proves a common theme.
Most of Theodore Paleologus's fourteenth-century treatise on war and government is lost, but this active son and knight of one of Byzantium's reigning dynasties characterized important aspects of battle exhortation, namely, its variability in length and the rank of the speaker: “It is certainly appropriate for the lord or the governor of the people, when he draws up his forces and they take up arms, to inspect them and to talk to them and give speeches to them, short ones, according to the time available, but they should be grand and of substance, to encourage them and to make them bold, and to place them in order to make a good defense against the enemy, and to seize a glorious victory…. Moreover, if there are common folk in the infantry, the commander should put some knights with them, to command them and encourage them during the battle.” 18 Paleologus's insights are evident from the examples of battle exhortation at the beginning of this chapter. There Agamemnon and Caesar exhort amid the fight and are brief. Cortés and Elizabeth speak prior to the fight and so speak longer. In both settings, however, the discourse is substantive. Agamemnon appeals to his troops' sense of manhood, fraternity, and glory. Caesar cautions his men not to squander a long-established record for bravery. Cortés compares his conquistadores to Caesar's legions. Elizabeth loves her troops, despises the invaders, burns with the heart and stomach of a king. From these cases it does appear that troops require reasons “of substance” to hazard life and limb. At the same time Paleologus recommended that battle exhortation not be reserved to the lord or governor. Lower-ranking officers (“knights”) should have a role in exhortation as well, even if—or especially because—they operate among the troops in the middle of the fight. Whether their discourse need be as grand, Paleologus did not say, but we shall address that issue in time.
Although best known today for The Prince and The Discourses , Niccolò Machiavelli wrote about applying speech to warfare in his 1521 The Art of War . Written as a fictive dialogue, but primarily a monologue of an invented papal captain, this treatise is clear about the need for rhetorical skill before troops. “It is necessary that a general should be an orator as well as a soldier,” Machiavelli's captain emphasizes, “for if he does not know how to address himself to the whole army, he will sometimes find it no easy task to mold it to his purposes.” Allowing for compulsion by other means, the captain points to Alexander, then fleets through potential discursive appeals: “Read the life of Alexander the Great, and you will see how often he was obliged to harangue his troops; otherwise he never could have led them—rich and full of spoil as they were—through the deserts of India and Arabia where they underwent every sort of hardship and fatigue. Many things may prove the ruin of an army, if the general does not frequently harangue his men; for by so doing he may dispel their fears, inflame their courage, confirm their resolution, point out the snares laid for them, promise them rewards, inform them of danger and of the way to escape it; he may rebuke, entreat, threaten, praise, reproach, or fill them with hopes, and avail himself of all other arts that can either excite or allay the passions and the appetites of mankind.” 19 This account delineates what classical rhetoricians would call “topics” ( topoi ) or commonplaces, the typical places to find something to say about a matter. In combat, for instance, troops may be goaded into action by appealing to their sense of courage, one common concern for men under arms. Or, on the contrary, they may be encouraged by discourse that diminishes the threat, requiring little courage at all. The combat leader must discern which of the two topics suits the temperament of his troops and the realities of the tactical situation, or whether another topic better applies. The more one studies battle exhortation, the more evident the scope of this repertoire becomes. 20
As Paleologus would have knights reiterate and model these messages, so Machiavelli would put “a corporal over every ten soldiers in all armies; this corporal should be a man of more spirit and courage—at least of greater authority—than the rest in order to inspire them by both his words and his example; he should continually exhort them to hold their ranks firm and conduct themselves like men.” Broadening Onasander, Machiavelli stipulates, “Therefore, if any prince or republic would make their armies respectable, they should accustom their generals to harangue the men and the men to listen to their generals.” 21 How is it that armies accustomed to battle exhortation are made respectable? It seems, based on Machiavelli's analysis of Alexander, that through battle exhortation troops rise above hardship, fear, and excess. Unaddressed, such stresses turn armies into rabbles.
Raimondo Montecuccoli, the seventeenth-century Italian-born Prussian general, provides one of the lengthiest investigations into battle exhortation. It is contained within his tactics treatise, Concerning Battle , written relatively early in his eventful career. Formations were Montecuccoli's primary interest in Concerning Battle , because experience and study had taught him that most casualties occur during flight, not stand-up combat. Correctly selecting and executing formations had two advantages in Montecuccoli's mind. They disrupt enemy formations, so “being disorganized and panic-stricken, he lacks the courage to defend himself”; and they embolden one's own army, which “does not become self-assured merely by virtue of bravery but also by having well-ordered alignments.” 22
For all of this attention to formations and the high morale that they inspire, Montecuccoli did devote one of his five chapters to other confidence-generating measures, and exhortation is its centerpiece. Here we receive a definition and some historical context: “The exhortation is when the general speaks publicly to his soldiers in order to urge them to demonstrate [virtue] and to infuse them with courage. Thus, full of ardor, they plunge into the struggle, the image of their leader still reflected in their eyes and the sound of his voice still ringing in their ears. As far as the Ancients are concerned, one reads that certain great captains never gave battle without first haranguing their soldiers.” We receive, for the first time, an indication that exhortation may be interactive: “After such speeches it is customary for the second-ranking person in the army to reply in the name of the others, declaring that everyone will fight valorously and do his duty. This form of approbation is like the practice of the Ancients, all of whom cried out simultaneously, raising their right hands and shaking the arms of their neighbors. For nowadays, when the senior officers have finished with their utterances, the multitude replies by clamoring ‘yea’ in unison. The chief individuals among the troops also add a few words of agreement or good will.” Montecuccoli also made allowances for hurried situations and large audiences, recognizing that “sometimes the captain speaks without forming a circle, simply riding between the alignments and talking briefly to the soldiers before whom he is passing.” 23
As to the topics of battle exhortation, Montecuccoli considered them in some detail. “Captains can incite soldiers to fight well,” he begins, “by indicating the necessity of the battle, which deprives the men of all hope of saving themselves except through victory.” Other reasons for fighting that might be articulated:
Our cause is just.
Fight for love of country or captain.
The enemy is disdainful.
Our property or religion is threatened.
“Better to die generously than to languish under tyranny.”
Better to risk death “in manly fashion” than to pass away later a shameful coward.
Death ends all suffering.
The soul fares better without the body anyway.
We enjoy some advantage over the enemy.
We have beaten this enemy before.
When previously beaten by this enemy, we were hamstrung in ways that no longer apply.
There are rewards and prizes if we succeed.
Defeat shall result in “all imaginable evils.”
It becomes clear that like Vegetius (one of his sources), Montecuccoli was ready to say anything that might get or keep troops functioning. Nowhere is this more evident than in his discussion of omens: “If the troops should be so superstitious as to permit themselves to be influenced by auguries or portents, as soon as something like this happens to take place, the captain must show the reason for the incident, interpret it rationally, or construe it appropriately and to his own advantage.” Before we condemn such manipulation, we should remember that Montecuccoli regarded poorly motivated, poorly functioning troops as sheep for slaughter. Persuading, even manipulating, troops to stay in formation and fight—and thereby probably saving their lives—might be regarded the lesser evil. 24
Montecuccoli's exhorting commander is not a hypocrite, loitering in the rear except for some big speech. His commander must be “everywhere,” mindful of the character of his men: “Some individuals he must exhort with hope of reward, others he must impress with fear of punishment. With everybody he must do something.” If troops begin to flee, the commander must meet and rally them through “good counsel,” proper gestures, and an encouraging tone. While he “must not expose himself to peril heedlessly,” should the commander see “his men routed and the army imperiled, he must follow the example of Caesar” and demonstrate his own nerve and skill in combat. Such activity not only bolsters the commander's authenticity. It keeps him visible, leading troops to believe that their own actions might be witnessed by him, so that they will fight more spiritedly. At the same time, Montecuccoli would have us remember the lighthearted side of this business, namely, the value of the timely quip. Pointing to the examples of Hannibal and Leonidas, Montecuccoli suggests that witty banter on the part of the commander cannot help but convince troops that the danger is manageable. 25
While Montecuccoli regarded both exhortation and prayer as confidence-generating measures, he regarded them at emotional odds with one another. Prayer, whether entreating publicly or privately, celebrating Mass, or singing psalms, is good and useful because troops are braver when reconciled to their Lord or protected by him. Nevertheless, by the time battle is joined, prayer becomes “untimely.” Troops should not “have to mumble prayers at the moment they are terrorizing the enemy with their war cries and spurring themselves and their comrades to do battle.” Nor should they “have to count off pater nosters on their rosaries when it is time to be pouring bullets into the enemy ranks.” Montecuccoli desired “fury” in his formations when they neared the enemy, not introspective calm. “If one must fight,” he concluded, “one should beg for divine aid beforehand.” 26
Battle signals—routinized communications during combat itself—are another matter. They serve an immediate coordinating end but, employed shrewdly, may build morale as well. For instance, any musical instrumentation enables formations “to enter the fray in better order,” but some instruments “are more suitable than others for arousing pugnacity.” Montecuccoli favored trumpets, kettledrums, and tambourines. He noted others' use of pipes, trombones, and flutes. Coordinating formations with proper instrumentation offers real advantage, because “it is quite certain that among all the techniques for producing the effect of improved morale, music holds the principal place.” 27
Countersigns are another type of battle signal that can serve both coordinating and morale-building ends. The response of a soldier or unit when challenged by another trying to distinguish friend from foe, countersigns may be, rather than any brief word or phrase, mottos or names that anticipate a favorable outcome from the fight. “Liberty,” for instance, not only serves the purpose of force recognition but reminds troops what they are fighting for. “Good fortune” is generally uplifting. “Apollo” or “Jesus Christ” recognizes divine authority. Montecuccoli sandwiched exhortation between prayer and signals in his consideration of confidence-generating measures. His arrangement seems chronological in that soothing prayer should occur well before battle, while heartening signals may be employed during combat itself. The most appropriate moment for exhortation is in between, immediately prior to combat. 28
Because Montecuccoli's discussion of morale-building measures includes some nondiscursive means, we should pause to distinguish which are within the purview of this study and which are not. To be considered here, an encouraging battlefield practice must involve “symbolic action.” Speech is symbolic in that it uses the symbols of words to represent or construct reality, but symbolic action extends beyond verbalization to nonverbal symbols, too. Mathematics, music, traffic lights, military protocol—all convey meaning through symbol systems. So when Montecuccoli discusses the general's speech, he is discussing the employment of verbal symbols to encourage the troops. When he discusses musical instrumentation, he is addressing a more symbolic means of encouragement, because music conveys meaning without words (although words were used to train the troops how to respond to the music). Even when Montecuccoli alludes to the commander's grin, his flamboyant dress, and the display of venerated objects and prisoners, such measures involve “symbolicity,” because they shape the situation through symbols. When, however, Montecuccoli starts contending that “a very sure way of making soldiers bold is to give them something to drink,” he moves beyond verbal and nonverbal symbolic action into the realm of physiological intoxication. Into that realm this study does not follow. 29
The next clear recognition of the need for verbal encouragement on the battlefield comes from S. L. A. Marshall, an officer and historian of the U.S. Army, in his well-known Men against Fire . Interested in increasing the combat efficiency of infantrymen, Marshall observed during World War II the same dilemma that Du Picq identified in the Franco-Prussian War: Modern weapons make close-order formations obsolete, but it is the near or presumed presence of comrades that psychologically emboldens troops to fight. Whereas Du Picq would keep troops in column as long as possible, Marshall advocates talk, warning: “We do not teach our men from the day they first put on the uniform that speech in combat is as vital as fire in combat.” Marshall's primary interest is in basic coordinating communication within smaller fighting units (for example, “Cover me!”). But some examples from his postcombat interviews appreciate broader, deliberate encouragement.
In one case a regimental commander explains how he got his unit across the Elbe so quickly: “When we got to the water's edge, I moved along the line of my men, giving them a love kick in the butt. I kept shouting to them as I moved along: ‘Don't waste the opportunity of a lifetime. You're on the way to Berlin. We can get there. You can cross now without a shot being fired. But you've got to move now . Don't wait to organize. Get into those boats! Get going!’”
In another case, a platoon sergeant explains how he revived his demoralized platoon under fire in the Pacific: “I asked myself why it was that we felt fear…and I realized it was because all of the leaders had quit talking. I knew then that the only way to get confidence back into the platoon was to talk it up, as a man might do in a football game. I continued my own attack on the enemy shelters and spider holes, but there was this difference, that I now began yelling to the others, ‘Watch me! This is what you're supposed to do. Get at it. Keep working. Keep your eyes open.' Soon the platoon become collected and began to operate methodically. But I kept talking until the end because I had learned something new. Leaders must talk if they are to lead. Action is not enough. A silent example will never rally men.” 30
These examples as much as any others demonstrate the essential combination of speech and action, or walk and talk, when it comes to generating fighting spirit. The regimental commander does not simply jump into a boat, figuring his urgent example will inspire others to follow. He does not just pass the order down the chain of command, then stand impatiently by. Neither does he only speak to his men, explaining how the tactical situation makes moving quickly imperative. The colonel hastens among his men and shouts to them. He gives them reasons to act, and in so doing offers them a glimpse into the sort of regimental commander he is, one they want to follow. The platoon sergeant's example is still more compelling. He realizes that the absence of talk is the very thing that has unnerved his platoon. Merely attacking enemy fortifications himself, providing a silent example, is insufficient to revive the unit. So he becomes coach as well as player, coaxing fellow soldiers to action through speech.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt helps us understand this tight coupling between speech and action in The Human Condition . Without the accompaniment of speech, she explains, action loses its revelatory character and subject, becoming work “not by acting men but performing robots.” Speechless action is as incomplete and uncompelling as mere talk—but through action and speech one “identifies himself as the actor, announcing what he does, has done, and intends to do.” 31 A nonmilitary parallel might be how we respond to professional or Olympic athletes. We are impressed by their physical performance, but it is by hearing them interviewed or learning their biographies that we are truly inspired (or not). Speech offers context for acts, providing meaning and significance.
Marshall's Men against Fire is remembered more for its controversial contention that only a quarter of American infantrymen were firing their weapons in combat than for the remedy that “when you prepare to fight, you must prepare to talk.” A reason for this may be that for all of his advocacy for “contact and communicating,” Marshall failed to include articulateness or anything like it among his list of “characteristics which are required in the minor commander if he is to prove capable of preparing men for and leading them through the shock of combat.” In his ideal profile, Marshall delineated more familiar and muted traits: sound administration, military bearing, courage, physical fitness, and respect for others. The irony of Du Picq is that he did not write about exhortation but was mortally wounded doing it. The irony of Marshall is that he praises exhortation until his conclusion. 32
Several scholars have investigated our subject more recently, but their focus is invariably on the record in epics and chronicles, and their interest often in the reliability or authenticity of the discourse there. Kendrick Pritchett argues that Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Polybius describe actual practice, then he identifies the common topics or appeals between them. John Bliese collects and analyzes hundreds of battle orations, not from Greco-Roman sources but from nearly a hundred western European chronicles written between 1000 and 1250 C.E . He too catalogs topics and determines that “seventeen identifiable appeals recur with some frequency.” Bliese's work demonstrates that battle exhortation extends beyond the most commonly known histories. It shows that topics can be affected by cultural or temporal factors. For instance, some of his cases involve fighting for Christ or the holy rewards of martyrdom, while this is never the case in Thucydides. At the same time, Bliese's work shows that many fighting appeals do seem constant—honor, justice, and the interest of one's God, to name three. Of course, Bliese concedes, “these are not verbatim reports of speeches; they are the rhetorical products of the historians themselves. But many writers of history in those days had extensive military experience. And at the very least, the enormous numbers of battle speeches show a widespread belief that such exhortations were appropriate, important and effective.” 33
Other contemporary scholars are less certain. Theodore Burgess questions the authenticity of speeches reported in Greco-Roman histories generally. Observing an ornate, even extravagant style to them, he suspects they are largely concocted by ancient historians “in a conscious effort to please” readers and as a means to demonstrate the historian's rhetorical prowess. He finds this posturing most evident in the general's oration before battle—“the most distinctive, fully developed, and persistent single type of speech among historians.” Comparing eleven battle exhortations, Burgess concludes, “All speeches of this character follow with varying exactness a well-defined series of [topics] and are artificial in the extreme.” His list of “the usual” topics largely coincides with the lists formulated by Bliese, Montecuccoli, and others, which is not surprising, since they share many of the same sources. But whether Burgess believes exhortation actually takes place on the battlefield, even if it is poorly represented in chronicles, is unclear. On the one hand, he warns that “it does not agree with modern taste to ascribe long speeches to generals in impossible conditions.” On the other hand, he concedes that Napoleon's relatively recent prebattle proclamations exude “a style comparable to that ascribed to generals by the ancient Greek historians.” Burgess does not reconcile this seemingly odd fact, that battle exhortation in ancient secondary sources strikes his ear as implausible, but more recent and reliable primary sources show Napoleon exhorting his troops this very way. 34
Elizabeth Keitel and Mogens Herman Hansen also question the reliability of battle exhortation in histories. Keitel cautions us to remember “just how literary and artificial a genre” the general's speech to his troops before battle became. She finds that Homer's Iliad powerfully influenced what battle speeches look like in later Greek and Roman chronicles, more powerfully, it seems, than actual words and events. Hansen goes so far as to reject the whole genre as “a literary and rhetorical fiction, not a historical fact.” Though he acknowledges that generals often shouted something as they traversed their lines, he cites lack of treatment in rhetorical treatises, the challenges of public address on the battlefield, and the careful correspondence of chronicled speeches by opposing generals (as if one commander were rebutting points made by the other) as reasons to dismiss traditional battle exhortation. 35
Now some skepticism regarding chronicled battle exhortation is healthy. From a situational perspective, we know that lengthy addresses immediately prior to battle could face physical and temporal challenges. From a primary source perspective, we know these speeches are not transcripts. In most cases they were reported by someone other than the battle orator, in many cases not even an eyewitness. Sometimes, as Burgess suggests, it was by a posturing historian. (Plutarch and Polybius found fault with some of their predecessors in this regard.) 36 We also know that the use of speeches to record issues was common historical method during antiquity, expected by oration-accustomed audiences—which did not regard quoted speech with the same reverence we do today. But it is also true that the chroniclers were relatively close to the moment. There was a conventionality to ancient warfare. And because historical narratives have often proven trustworthy, we should be slow to dismiss historical speeches out of hand. 37
Above all we ought to appreciate the powerful conditioning role of chronicled material, even if a fair amount of it was reported with license. Why does a seasoned colonel of cavalry such as Montecuccoli spend so much time writing about, and presumably practicing, battle exhortation? Because he has studied ancient chronicles and taken their battle exhortations to heart. Whether they are factual or not, he believes them to be so and draws on them as models when he encourages his own troops. He sees contemporaries behaving similarly. How is it that Napoleon delivers proclamations that sound like Caesar's “impossible” speeches? Because Napoleon is imitating Caesar. Just as Homer influenced historians, so these historians influence readers, some of whom are or become combat leaders. Perhaps the crispest example of tale becoming actual speech on the battlefield is Henry V's appeal to his weary, outnumbered troops before Agincourt, asking them to face the threat as a “band of brothers.” This beloved expression now permeates our culture and graces not only the titles of books and movies but is indeed uttered with affection between military men. And yet Henry V never said such a thing. The words, originally, are Shakespeare's. (In chapter 2 , we look at this conditioning more closely.)
The relevant literature may be summarized this way:
For the sake of effective armies, commanders should be effective speakers.
In its most traditional form, battle exhortation is a commander's address to his troops immediately prior to combat. It is designed to embolden them.
Subordinate leaders and messages should reinforce the commander's determination.
Exhortation may vary in length, given the tactical situation.
In the fuller sense of symbolic action, battle exhortation may employ nondiscursive means such as music and visual aids.
There is place for the wisecrack and grin.
The relationship between word and deed is delicate and crucial, because speech provides context for physical action, and physical action reinforces or cancels speech.
Battle orators have a fairly stable repertoire of rhetorical topics from which to draw. (These are consolidated in the table in chapter 2 .) As Keitel puts it, “Only so many arguments would be plausible and compelling when asking men to go into battle.” 38
The constancy and number of these appeals in ancient sources bothers some academic observers, who find them artificial and rehearsed. And yet, these scholars acknowledge that some exhortation occurs.
Defining Exemplar : Mantinea, 418 B.C.E .
To define battle exhortation more clearly still, let us examine a historical description of armies joining battle. It is the start of the Battle of Mantinea in 418 B.C.E ., where Mantineans, Argives, and Athenians face Spartans (Spartiates and their allies). Why focus upon a classical Greek battle when some scholars struggle with the realism of battle exhortation reported from the period? For several reasons: First, it would be difficult to offer a definitive account of most any Western practice without starting in Greece. Everything from our conception of politics to our architecture—and especially our conceptions of rhetoric and warfare—originate from Greece. Second, this is a significant Greek land battle, probably the largest of the Peloponnesian War, and Thucydides' commentary is so revealing that it is commonly referenced by scholars of various disciplines. Finally, if some of the exhortations in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War seem long-winded, those recorded here do not. Instead Thucydides summarizes “the type of encouragement” each army receives:
The armies were now on the point of joining battle, and the generals on each side spoke to the troops under their command to encourage them. The Mantineans were told that they were to fight for their country, that it was a question of power or of slavery, of keeping the power which they had won or of relapsing again into the slavery of the past. The Argives were told that the battle was for their old position of supremacy, for the equal share in the Peloponnese which they had once had, to prevent them being deprived of this forever, and at the same time to requite the many wrongs that had been done to them by an enemy and a neighbor. The Athenians were told of the glory they would win if, fighting at the side of so many brave allies, they showed themselves second to none, that to defeat the Spartans in the Peloponnese would make their own power greater and more secure, and that no one would ever again come to invade the territory of Athens. This was the type of encouragement given to the Argives and their allies. The Spartans on their side spoke their words of encouragement to each other man to man, singing their war songs and calling on their comrades, as brave men, to remember what each knew so well, realizing that the long discipline of action is a more effective safeguard than hurried speeches, however well they may be delivered.
After this the two armies met, the Argives and their allies advancing with great violence and fury, while the Spartans came on slowly and to the music of many flute-players in their ranks. This custom of theirs has nothing to do with religion; it is designed to make them keep in step and move forward steadily without breaking ranks, as large armies often do when they are just about to join battle. 39
There is no doubt that battle exhortation is taking place here and other types of discourse are not, so we begin narrowing our definition by eliminating what does not apply. Calling battle exhortation “war discourse” or “the rhetoric of war” is not sufficiently precise because the assembly debates and messages from envoys, so common in Thucydides' History , are absent. As opposing armies close, the time for civilian justifications for war or negotiations to avoid it has passed. Likewise, “military” or “martial discourse” is too wide-ranging a characterization, because military discourse addresses a host of situations. Among officers (and where applicable, their civilian chiefs), there are deliberations or councils of war to determine courses of action. For the masses, there is recruiting discourse that entices potential troops with promises of adventure, glory, and civic reward. There is indoctrinating discourse, which transforms recruits into soldiers. There is sustaining discourse, which preserves the fighting force through hardship, changes in command, and other stresses. And later there is commendation and consolation. 40 But none of these situations resembles the scene Thucydides describes. Even thinking of battle exhortation as “combat discourse” is insufficiently precise, because there is a good deal of discourse directly related to combat that is not involved here. It is in surrounding paragraphs that Thucydides details the coordinating orders of Spartan King Agis and the reports dispatched to approaching reinforcements.
The communication reported above encourages men to fight, not abstractly, not eventually, but imminently. Its focus is that particular. At the same time, we see the multiple dimensions of battle exhortation insofar as it encourages combatants through different means and for different reasons. Mantinean, Argive, and Athenian troops are addressed by their commanders and variously so. In response, and almost certainly to further encourage themselves, these troops advance with fury. By contrast, the Spartans are not addressed by their commanders but address one another—and sing. They are reassured by one another's voices, their pipes, and almost certainly by the sound of their collective, measured step. Thus the source of battle exhortation is neither limited to commanders nor the spoken word.
Because battle exhortation encourages men to believe something (that fighting is their best course of action) and to behave accordingly, it is essentially rhetorical discourse . Rhetorical discourse aims to persuade an audience to belief and action through good reasons. Its most basic form is argumentative: Believe/do this; here is why. The allied generals through their grand speeches and the Spartans through their talking, singing, and piping are all seeking to present good reasons for troops to stay, advance, and fight. Ideally “good reasons” are good in that they are moral, but at a minimum they are good enough, representing sufficient grounds for the audience to be persuaded. It is also important to remember that by “discourse” we more broadly mean symbolic action, as discussed in relation to Montecuccoli.
Battle exhortation may include elements from other major genera of communication. For instance, it is not scientific discourse with the fundamental end of instruction, but there might be some instruction to it. It is not poetic with the fundamental end of pleasure, imperative with the fundamental end of direction, or cant with the fundamental end of obscuration, yet there can be some pleasure, some order-giving, some obscuration to it. The important point is that being rhetorical discourse, with the fundamental end of persuasion and the fundamental means of good reasons, battle exhortation involves certain essentials while scientific and the rest involve others. Specifically, there will be (1) a pressing need that prompts the discourse from someone; (2) an audience that can resolve the need if persuaded; and constraints (3) personal and (4) environmental that influence or complicate the exhorter's task. Alert to such rhetorical sensitivities, we continue our investigation. 41
Thucydides' continuing account of the Battle of Mantinea may be summarized this way: As the adversaries closed, each began inadvertently to outflank the other to the right. To protect his left, King Agis ordered his leftmost regiments to extend their line and other regiments to preserve the link between left wing and main body. Because he ordered the maneuver at the last minute, however, there was some confusion, and the left wing found itself separated from the main body upon contact with the enemy. This wing fared poorly but was eventually rescued by the rest of the Spartan army. Sparta carried the day. 42
Supplementing Thucydides' account with other classical reports of infantry combat, and with modern scholarship, 43 let us formulate the plausible circumstances of a regimental commander who is part of Sparta's troubled left. His rhetorical situation and choices will be useful for the remainder of this chapter.
Our commander leads the Brasidans, troops in the center of Sparta's three-regiment left wing. The Brasidans earned their name and freedom a few years earlier after participating in a bold, well-executed campaign by the Spartan general Brasidas. They are not fully franchised citizens of Sparta, as their regimental commander is, but landed freemen. On cue the commander steps off, and his nearly six hundred men follow suit at quick time, the normal rate of march.
Initially the situation is well in hand. Although the enemy five hundred paces to the front is aggressive, our commander knows that many things encourage his men to march toward the fight, carefully maintaining their formation. They are accustomed to Spartan military tactics and success, tested in combat, and proud of their special identity as Brasidans. Shortly before, they witnessed the morning's sacrifices, heard the priest's prayer, and celebrated a good omen. There is the regimental commander's own confident striding before them (and even breakfast wine still coursing through their veins). But what encourages the Brasidans most—indeed, what encourages the commander most—are the sounds of a Spartan phalanx girded for and grinding toward war: its songs, pipes, collective rhythmic step, and, during pauses between songs, familiar voices. Such structured, man-made sounds convey unit cohesion and synchronization, keys to success in pitched battle.
Suddenly, however, the situation changes. A herald hastens to the commander, recites a dispatch, then hastens on to the regiment further left. At once the commander shouts the preparatory command to move obliquely left, and his word passes down the chain of command. Trumpets sound, indicating that the Spartan left wing will move as one. Although Spartans regularly rehearsed the maneuver, it is not typical three hundred paces before a storming enemy. As the singing subsides, so as not to interfere with the coming command of execution, there is an abrupt change in Brasidan confidence. No sooner do trumpets signal and commanders shout the command of execution than reason for the change is plain. Pivoting on its collective right foot and continuing to advance obliquely left, the regiment has exposed its right side, for its members carry their shields on their left arms, which now face away from the enemy. Weapon-bearing right arms, in addition to being bare, are less able to thrust forward with momentum because they are already forward. So though their pipes continue to play and their feet continue to tread, unnerving questions begin to creep into Brasidan minds:
When will the order come to face the enemy squarely again?
Are regiments to the right maintaining our link to the main body?
Is the original source of the command, King Agis, fit for command?
Just days before, Agis had nearly stumbled into battle. Months earlier he had accepted a bogus armistice and prematurely left the field. Perceiving such doubt behind him, our regimental commander feels his own heart sink, for doubt has no place in a phalanx two hundred paces from the enemy. Unless his unit is psychologically steeled, it will collapse upon impact with the opposing phalanx. This is the crisis as the foe lurches forward into double time, tridents on their embossed shields starting to serrate like teeth.
Consistent with the specified number of oblique paces, signal trumpets sound in quick succession, enabling the commander to redress his most immediate tactical problem: He commands the regiment to march straight forward again. Although he suspects, based on the number of trumpets he has heard, that the left wing has lost contact with the Spartan main body, he takes comfort knowing that every forward stride now helps his regiment dress its lines and regain momentum. Still, there is need to stiffen his troops, for they have not resumed their high-spirited banter.
If there was more time or quiet, the commander might fashion some clever remark, imitating heroic Leonidas, but a situation this urgent requires something else. With scarcely one hundred paces remaining, in time and sonority with the regiment's pipes, the commander begins a familiar war song still unsung this day: “Come, O boys of Brasidas, rich in manhood and savage valor, thrust forward your shield with your left hand, shaking your spear with courage and not sparing your life. For it is not the ancestral custom of Sparta.” 44
Answering this verse as trained and practiced, Brasidans stamp on their next left step, and the first three ranks snap down their thrusting spears from the carry to the ready. Often such menacing precision is all the warfare needed, astounding more amateur armies into terror and flight. Today, however, the on-guard movement does not intimidate the fast-approaching enemy. These Mantineans, after all, are defending their homes.
The Spartan war cry quickly follows, started by the officers of the regiment, then taken up heartily by the ranks. Part appeal for divine protection, part regulation of mood and movement, part intimidation for the enemy, the cry combines with stamping left feet and adjusts the regiment's march from a normal gait to one where left feet stomp forward and right feet shuffle up behind. This stamp/shuffle/singing produces a relentless forward motion, resembling a song-dance both encouraged and encouraging since youth. 45 As a result, shields rise a bit and stiffen. Spears are jostled, loosening weapon hands for action. The next several paces are covered more firmly, even as the dust grows thicker and equipment heavier. The regiment's center of gravity shifts from waists to almost six hundred left-leaning shoulders. Continuing their rhythmic stamping and chanting, the Brasidans grow numb to danger. Parched throats, fatiguing shield-bearing arms, King Agis's dubious competence—all recede from consciousness.
On impact, the running, hollering Mantineans directly before the Brasidans are demolished.

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